Mg(2+) at an optimal concentration of 2mM (ph 6.5) induces large increases (up to 30 percent) in the optical density of bovine heart mitochondria incubated under conditions of low ionic strength (< approx. 0.01). The increases are associated with aggregation (sticking together) of the inner membranes and are little affected by changes in the energy status of the mitochondria. Virtually all of a number of other polyvalent cations tested and Ag(+) induce increases in mitochondrial optical density similar to those induced by Mg(2+), their approximate order of concentration effectiveness in respect to Mg(2+) being: La(3+) > Pb(2+) = Cu(2+) > Cd(2+) > Zn(2+) > Ag(+) > Mn(2+) > Ca(2+) > Mg(2+). With the exception of Mg(2+), all of these cations appear to induce swelling of the mitochondria concomitant with inner membrane aggregation. The inhibitors of the adenine nucleotide transport reaction carboxyatratyloside and bongkrekic acid are capable of preventing and reversing Mg(2+)-induced aggregation at the same low concentration required for complete inhibition of phosphorylating respiration, suggesting that they inhibit the aggregation by binding to the adenine nucleotide carrier. The findings are interpreted to indicate (a) that the inner mitochondrial membrane is normally prevented from aggregating by virtue of its net negative outer surface change, (b) that the cations induce the membrane to aggregate by binding at its outer surface, decreasing the net negative charge, and (c) that carboxyatractyloside and bongkrekic acid inhibit the aggregation by binding to the outer surface of the membrane, increasing the net negative charge.

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